Sleep was always uncertain on Hill 65. The incoming mortars would “light up” receptors in the brain. Once awake with adrenaline pumping, it was impossible to get any shuteye. While lying dazed on my cot, the images of flashing explosions in my head ushered in foolish thoughts. Some Marines would break out a bottle and drink it as sleep medication.
I went to the mess hall with my canteen cup and got some hot water. My grandmother’s herbal tea was usually relaxing, and I added a heaping spoonful of sugar. Reb said, “Sleep an extra hour Sarge; I’ll wake you at 0500.” It was just past 3 AM, and the tea was calming . . . Sumo’s snoring was like a restful drone, and I did manage to nod off for an hour.
All day my thoughts were on a cool shower and getting a good night’s sleep. Just as the mess hall was closing, the air horn went off in dual blasts. Reb came out of the hooch with my helmet and flak jacket, and we made our way to our OP on the roof of the Exec Pit. Mortars were “walking toward us so we laid prone as they passed. From the sound, they were 82mm and had Kilo battery locked in. We listened for the telltale “Thunk” of the outgoing rounds, but all went quiet. After some time passed, Top Culverhouse yelled “Clear,” and we returned to finish the cleanup in the mess hall.
After securing the mess hall, I went to the hooch and took off my shirt. Sitting on my cot, I started to unlace my boots. THUNK, THUNK, THUNK. Reb and I were back on our OP as the mortars skipped past the Exec Pit. The battery was firing counter mortar fire across the river, into Arizona. Someone shouted, “Corpsman,” and Doc Driscoll ran toward the motor pool. The incoming stopped, and again we secured. PFC Wilson had been hit in the knee with shrapnel (his third Purple Heart), and he would be sent out of country for the remainder of his tour.
I skipped taking a shower and wiped myself down with a wet washcloth. As I dried off, Top Culverhouse delivered our mail . . . Sumo, Reb and I each received a letter.
After reading Jenny’s letter and pondering her plans for camping with friends in the Sierra Nevada, I delivered Reb’s letter to him in the mess hall. He was up to his elbows in dough so I set the letter down on his wooden bakery table. Reb nodded to me and said, “Y’all get some sleep Sarge.”